Surface Book at $1250: Now We’re Talking

Posted on November 21, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 20 Comments

Surface Book at $1250: Now We're Talking

The base model Surface Book is now on sale for $1250 at the Microsoft Store, a savings of $250. That’s a great price, and it changes the value equation somewhat.

To understand what I mean, let’s look back to my article Understanding the Expanded Surface Book Lineup, from late last month. At that time, I was trying to differentiate between the suddenly exploding number of Surface Book models, triggered by the appearance of several new Performance Base variants.

In that article, I concluded with the following:

So what’s the sweet spot here?

If I were spending my own money, I would buy the base model. But if Microsoft did offer a Surface Book i5/16 GB/128 GB for $1699, the same price as the Surface Book i5/8 GB/256 GB model, that would be my choice.

That said, $1499 to $1699 is a lot of money for a Core i5 laptop. A MacBook Pro with a Core i5, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage costs the same $1499 (though the version with the Touch Bar is $1799).

I’d be much more inclined to buy the 2016 HP Spectre x360: That PC with the same specs costs just $1049, a savings of $400. But you lose pen support, which may matter to some, and the Surface Book’s 3:2 display is superior. On the flipside, Surface Book has been unreliable.

Thankfully, we have choice. And if you are in the market for Surface Book, you suddenly have tons of choice.

With the base Surface Book dropping by $250 to a street price of just $1250—temporarily, by the way: this offer ends November 28, and “while supplies last”—the value equation has changed. And it may be a big enough change to warrant a rethinking on Surface Book. At least for this specific model. Which is:

Price: $1249 (Normally $1499)
Availability: October 2015
Processor: 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i5
Storage: 128 GB
Dedicated GPU: No

$1500 is indeed a lot of money for a Core i5 laptop. So is $1250. But when you compare that $1250 price tag to the $1050 asking price of a similarly-equipped HP Spectre x360 (2016 model), you’ll need to do some soul searching.

The Surface Book offers a bigger screen (and, commensurately, is heavier and bulkier), which I like, and that screen is a 3:2 aspect ratio, which I love.

Both devices offer excellent typing and trackpad experiences, but the Surface Book is better, and, with the trackpad, dramatically so.

The Surface Book supports and—crucially—includes an active pen, the Surface Pen. The 2016 model x360 doesn’t support such a thing, and if you need/want one, that could be a deciding factor. Too, Surface Pen costs $60 by itself, so that lowers the cost delta between these devices further, from $200 to $140.

The HP includes more modern ports—USB-C with Thunderbolt 2, two of them—plus a single USB 3.0 port. That may be desirable to some. Or off-putting.

The HP is a convertible, but the Surface Book is a detachable. I find that capability pointless, but some may like the clipboard (tablet) form factor.

Finally, and this cannot be overstated or ignored, Surface Book has been unreliable. In fact, it’s still something of a roulette wheel of reliability, and there’s no real way to ensure that the one you get will work correctly or just always be off, with intermittent power management issues such as “hot bag”. Many people have no issues at all. But many do. On the good news front, Microsoft support is usually pretty great, and if you have a local Microsoft Store, that may be enough to justify the risk.

Ultimately, the HP Spectre x360—which, yes, I will be reviewing this week—remains an unparalleled value. But if you’ve been itching to pull the trigger on a Surface Book, and agree that the base model is the sweet spot, then this sale price makes it even sweeter. And when you consider that the best PC portables all fall in the $1000 and up range, Surface Book is a real contender. Especially at this price.


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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Surface Book at $1250: Now We’re Talking”

  1. 1065

    The service issue is a good point.  The Microsoft service / support is very good. Having a physical store makes it even better.  I have bought many different models of computers, and I've almost decided never to buy anything but Microsoft due to the "relatively" easy way to get support.  BTW check my profile for full disclosure, but I buy more computers of different makes/models/OS than any sane person should, and my opinion is personal despite where I get paid.  ok...just checked not sure it shows...but full disclosure is I work for Microsoft.

    • 442

      In reply to 880510:

      It's so easy to ignore brick and mortar in these days of Amazon minded shoppers.  But for those that want/need personal service, Microsoft did great things putting these stores in as many places as they could.

      • 5184

        In reply to Narg:

        The service in the Microsoft Store is truly amazing.  MS really does a good job supporting their hardware as well as their partners.  I'm a Band owner, so I've had a lot of experience with this.  I'm also a SP3 owner.  Great service is worth something, but I'm not sure it is worth quite the premium they're asking for this device.

        I had been holding out on purchasing a replacement for my four year old Dell XPS 15z development laptop, hoping the Book or latest Dell XPS 15 would come down.  The Surface Book drop is still not enough, especially when considering the lack of expandability/servicing.  Sadly, it doesn't appear the Dell XPS 15 is dropping either.

        I just recently decided to pick up a Dell Inspiron 15 7000 series with 7th gen i7, 512 GB SSD, 12 GB RAM, Windows Hello, touch screen, and precision trackpad because it is premium enough and I can add ram and swap out the drive very easily.

        I do wish MS would add a store in my state.  I have to drive one state over to visit.  We have two Apple stores, so it seems like the market is big enough. 

  2. 722

    just this past week I bought a new Surface Book i5 256GB 8GB RAM and dGPU for $1400 on Amazon from a 3rd party seller. Just checked and the deal is no longer available. It was listed as an older model because it didn't come with the Anniversary Update.

  3. 431

    I think that at those prices the Surface Book is (or should be) a primary machine for people who do real work. But no primary machine wannabe can have such paltry 128GB storage. That's not enough even for elementary school students. How can anybody justify having only 128GB?  A friend just bought a base Surface Book on his son's suggestion and 3 months in has run out of storage with pictures of grandchildren, email attachments and programs. It's hard not to be angry on his behalf.

    These days 128GB is stupid. A primary machine must have at least 256GB and 8MB RAM. And with those specs, the Surface Book is too pricey. Add the unreliability issues and I think the Surface Book is dead in the water. Which is a shame because I quite like it as a concept.

    • 5349

      In reply to zself:

      The people who do "real work" as you describe it, probably have a terabyte via their Office subscription.

    • 1415

      In reply to zself:

      Here's an inexpensive way to add storage to any Surface Book: buy a BASEQI Aluminum microSD Adapter (available from Amazon for $25) and a 128gb or 256gb micro SD card (another $40 to $150 depending on capacity).  I use this combination in the SD slot in the Surface Book as permanent data storage and it only sticks out from the side of the laptop by a mere 1/16".  I only use the internal SSD for programs, so there is always room for doing upgrades, system backups, etc.  I use a USB-based SD card reader when I need to transfer files to/from the laptop so I don't miss having the built-in SD card reader for that function. 

    • 431

      In reply to zself:

      i'm not good at taking the time to sync my cloud storage so that it doesn't kill my mobile storage, so I do it via "active" and "archive" root folders. I have a working folder of ~50GB that includes camera roll and data files. Old stuff is archived in a separate folder that doesn't sync to mobile. if that makes sense. I don't want to worry about not having enough room to perform updates, install software, etc.

    • 2

      In reply to zself:

      Honestly, my need for local storage has gone down over the years thanks to the cloud. But I guess it depends on what you do and how you work.

      • 180

        In reply to Paul Thurrott:

        This mirrors my experience, but I'd add a tertiary point: If they're storing all those photos and other items on the Surface Book, what's their backup solution? I suspect this is someone who's just taking all their stuff, sticking it on their computer, and presuming that's how you store things. What they need is someone to sit down with them and talk about getting their data off their computer and in a location that's unlikely to disappear if the worst happens to that machine.

        • 431

          In reply to Polycrastinator:

          I would think the backup would be cloud storage (Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, et al). how do you not want photos in local storage AND on backup? I guess it boils down to what's left after the OS install. What's the storage amount taken with by Windows 10 Pro install?

  4. 7063

    Personally I would still rather see a Surface Book with a 3:2 screen that is permanently attached, folds flat, isn't top heavy, and maybe flips around backwards for the tablet effect.

    Just a really good touch laptop, basically.

    • 6993

      In reply to DataMeister:

      Pretty sure that'll never happen.

      More than anything, the Surface devices are supposed to be aspirational, to show what a PC can be, not devices for everybody (thus also the high price).

      Also, if MS did that , they'd *really* piss off the likes of HP, Dell, and Lenovo. And lest we forget, they're already piss off with the current Surface line. MS doesn't need to push them even more into Google's arms.

  5. 5510

    The only reason that I see for the need of a pen is for any kind of drawing, where precision is needed. For all other cases, a finger is better.

    True, people are use to writing with a pen, whether it's taking notes or signing a document. But it's 2016 and 40 years into the tech revolution. Does a pen really have to be that necessary?

    IMO, this where Steve Jobs is sorely missed. His sense for technological practicality and simplicity is vitally missing with today's tech leaders.

    The one thing, that I don't like about the Surface products (From the Pro tablet to the Studio) is the lack of creative and elegant design. On that front, HP just owns that "sector." Since a computer is an extension, of a person's style, it's important that the user chooses a computer that "fits" him or her's personal taste as it could lead to enhanced productivity on any level. IMO, $1250 is a decent price, but if the more stylish or elegant, but lower spec'd HP computer present a better deal then why not go for that?

    • 6993

      In reply to Bats:

      Actually, I use the pen a lot more for taking notes in OneNote than drawing. Handwritting notes and making doddles in OneNote is, imho, where the pen really shines.

  6. 427

    Sounds like a decent price for a normal person who doesn't need much storage or ram.  Are normal people buying these devices? I certainly hope so, but I have mainly seen enthusiasts with them, so I honestly don't know.

    • 2

      In reply to awright18:

      Based on what I've seen---purely circumstantial---I'd say it's all affluent and power users right now. But that's how this starts, and if the price comes down over time, this could turn into a bigger business for Microsoft.

  7. 5281

    The model on sale has no discreet GPU in the base, so what's the point of its existence?